What scares you? No, I’m not talking about “Fear Factor” level stuff. I’m thinking more along the lines of smaller everyday things that can’t potentially result in death or make you sick. Things such as public speaking, meeting new people, asking for a raise, or searching for a new job. These things, we all have them, opportunities or ideas that make us a little nervous and self-conscious.

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Overcoming these fears and stepping outside of our comfort zone is the first step in personal growth. It enables us to find new strengths and push through barriers that might be in our way. I recently read an excellent blog post by Peter Shankman digging into this idea further. The post explores how electing not to do something can result in a missed opportunity or experience. While likely a small price to pay to remain comfortable, its long term effect can stifle growth. Saying yes to everything is bad but saying no all the time, leaves room for paths unexplored.

Over the years I’ve found myself revisiting this idea numerous times. Often when I’m stuck with a project or idea, I force myself to “do three big things,” that often scare me. Most recently this has taken the form of asking for help from my network, participating in something I’m not familiar with, or increasingly stepping up to lead or own an project. Each time I’m confronted with one of these opportunities, I pause, reflect, and ask myself,

Will this kill me?

If the answer is no, then I force myself to do it. And upon committing, I mentally prepare myself to be present, show up, and to the best of my ability participate in the opportunity at hand.

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The best example I can share comes from a previous experience when I was laid off from my job at Nyhus Communications in 2012. Upon being laid off I was very uncertain about what was next. But as I’ve learned time and time again, you can’t stand still either, even if it feels like the right thing do. No, often the best thing is to, pause, reflect, plan, and move on. For me, it took the form of thinking about “three big things” I could do at that moment to regain traction and move forward. These things took the following form.

1) Share snippets of the journey
Job hunting is a process. It takes days and months to go from a potential prospect to an offer letter. For me, when I do job hunt, I make an effort to put myself out there to meet new people who inspire me (sometimes connected to a new job but not always). I also attempt to make use of my existing network for moral support.

During this particular job hunt, I was very intentional about tweeting my experience and sharing information about what I was doing, who I was meeting, and what I was looking for. This big thing eventually connected me with Leah Motz, a friend of mine who helped me obtain my second job at Waggener Edstrom (now known as WE Communications).

Sharing tidbits from the journey not only helped me land my next job, it also helped fill in the gaps of my story between the abrupt chapter of my layoff and what was next. Looking back at that experience, sharing the journey was definitely a challenge but it forced me to get out there and make something happen!

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2) Travel to Malaysia for a Month
Before being laid off, I had a vacation planned to Malaysia to visit my now husband, Fadzrul (Fuzz), in his home country. As an employee and responsible adult, I stored all the vacation time I needed and carefully saved money for my second big international trip. I was nervous, yet very excited! I did not, however, account for the fact that sometimes, no matter how much you plan, crisis and change don’t appear on a regular schedule. Shortly after I purchased my ticket, I was informed I would not have a job in 2012.

When I heard this news, I was deeply concerned. I was worried about money and what to do now that I had the ticket purchased and trip planned. I thought about my choices for days, contemplating giving up on the trip and focusing solely on job hunting. Following a bit of conversation with friends and reflection, I talked myself out of not going and even extended my trip past my originally planned two-week vacation.

Without a doubt, that was one of the best decisions I ever made. Was I scared of what was next? Absolutely! I was deeply terrified and worried. As I frequently am when I do things that scare me. But in between indulging in Malaysia’s wonderful food scene, studying the cultural elements of the country, reconnecting with Fuzz, and my personal favorite wearing shorts in the dead of winter (not advisable in Washington state), I accepted the reality that saying no just because you’re scared is a bad choice because you’ll often miss out on life experiences.

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3) Start a political fellowship with IDF
Introducing yourself to a handful of new people is a challenge on its own. Joining a group or cohort in the case of the Institute for Democratic Future (IDF), Class of 2012 (Go 12s!), is an entirely different beast. In this type of setup, you get the opportunity to know people fast and on a deep level.

Having long had an interest in politics and government, I initially signed-up for IDF when I was employed at Nyhus. I did not anticipate that on day one of my cohort, however, the bio I’d share and professional information about myself would need to be updated to reflect past tense and with a new title “professional job hunter,” aka unemployed and seeking new opportunities.

Briefly before the night of the kick-off event, I considered withdrawing myself from the program. Being with so many distinguished professionals, many who worked with government organizations or in related industries, I all of a sudden felt a bit of place, especially without a job. Ignoring my gut, I forced myself to pause for a second and ask,

Will this kill me?

Unsurprisingly in retrospect, the answer was a big no. And after shaking off the anxiety and doubt, I told myself I’d participate in the program. The program was a great opportunity that allowed me to learn so much about Washington state politics and policymaking. I also met a lot of wonderful people who I am glad to have in my life.

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Fear is real; it is part of what makes us human and keeps us safe in everyday life. Fear such as don’t pet that lion or stand too close to the edge, are valid. Standing up in front of a large group to give a speech or pushing yourself to go to a networking event, those aren’t fears worth validating. So if you’re faced with the choice of doing something that scares you. Ask yourself,

Will this kill me?

If no, you’re clear to launch. Dive in and enjoy. Life isn’t meant to be enjoyed from the sidelines. Don’t let fear hold you back.

[Photos Courtesy of blind dayze, Peter Shankman, FromSandToGlass, Joshua Holland]